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Opera broadcasts a hit at multiplexes

January 28, 2008|From the Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Recently in Fargo, N.D., moviegoers had a choice among "Aliens vs. Predator," "The Great Debaters" -- and "Macbeth," live from New York's Metropolitan Opera.

Murder, mayhem, romance -- the plot elements of Verdi's opera were packing 'em in at about 600 theaters across North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.

It's all part of a marketing strategy by the Met's general manager, Peter Gelb, to attract a new, younger audience.

"We're creating, basically, satellite opera houses," Gelb said in an interview. "But the Met offers something you don't get at a performance -- cameras that show action behind the scenes and interviews in dressing rooms, the equivalent of going into the locker room of a sports team."

On a recent weekend, ticket sales for the Met broadcasts reached $1.65 million, pushing Charles Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet" to No. 11 in North American movie box-office receipts, according to Variety.

The cost of each transmission, including satellite feeds, equipment and crew, is about $1 million -- in addition to up to $3 million for each new Met production, Gelb said. The Met expects to break even with the HD series by the end of this year, including revenues from repeat, taped transmissions and DVD sales.

Other opera houses are taking note.

The San Francisco Opera is preparing to offer six taped shows to about 200 theaters, beginning in March.

La Scala, in partnership with other Italian houses, is already showing seven taped productions per season in 30 U.S. theaters, while the Royal Opera in London is considering its own program. The Washington National Opera transmits simulcasts to a dozen college campuses and a few high schools.

The next of the Met's eight shows this season is Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" on Feb. 16.

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